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Pytheas and Island of Ictis

The connection between Avalon and the fabled Island of Ictis.


Leaving our geometrical construct for the moment, it is necessary to concentrate our enquiry on another location of which there is no trace in the modern world. The reason for trying to accurately locate the island of Ictis is because we know that it was engaged in the tin trade. If we can establish Ictis as a definitive location today, then we will see how this Island confirms the directions given in Melkin’s prophecy. Melkin in his prophecy, as we shall see when we deconstruct the wording of his puzzle..... uses the Latin word 'Supradictis' to indicate 'up high in Ictis'.

 We can assume for the moment that around the time of the first attempted Roman invasion of Britain, Joseph of Arimathea would have been a tin merchant, as the Cornish traditions have maintained.
Researchers over the last 2000 years have tried to find the location of the fabled ‘Island of Ictis’. There has been much written and incredible ingenuity used by scholars and commentators alike, to fit facts as they see them, to agree with their own preference for the location of Ictis. It would appear that for all this effort in the modern era, no one has definitively managed to locate it.

The references about Ictis came from many different sources, Greek and Roman over a period of approximately 400 years, but recent commentators have not been able to see the pertinent facts that were related, in perspective.
This search for the Island of Ictis originated due to a Greek named Pytheas, who made a journey by sea, circa 325 BC and wrote a Chronicle of his voyage, which no longer exists. He mentioned the island in his journals and left quite specific references to it, the most pertinent being that it dried out at low tide and was located in southern England.  For reasons associated with Cornish tin and the fact that Pytheas relates the island is found on a pennsula...... its permanent association with St Michael’s Mount, just south of Marazion in Cornwall has continued until now.

It is because of Pytheas’s notoriety and the fact that his original writings no longer exist, that over time, references from other ancient chroniclers have almost made the island's location indeterminable. The original account of his journey and his description of the island and its environs have become garbled.... some of the chroniclers simply disbelieving much that Pytheas had related.


Courtesy of James and Jade

Figure 9 Showing St Michael’s Mount, Marazion, and the rocky foreshore, on which the foreign trading vessels were supposed to land at all states of the tide.


Pytheas was an astronomer and a geographer, who may have been the first Greek to visit and write about the Atlantic coast of Europe and the British Isles. It is a shame that his main work, which was called ‘On the Ocean’ is no longer extant, but we know something of his travels through the other Greek historian called Polybius, who lived around 200 BC. Timaeus even mentions Ictis before Polybius while other ancient writers who mention Pytheas’ voyage are Posidonius, Diodorus Siculus and Strabo, who all wrote before the birth of Jesus.
Strabo relates that Dicaearchus who died about 285BC did not trust the stories of Pytheas, but we shall see his mistrust was not fair.
Diodorus, who gives a good description of the island and its trade, (much of which can be ascertained to be from Pytheas’ original eye witness description), also tells how large cart loads of tin were brought to the island . Diodorus is also seen to be quoting from Posidonius, while Pliny on the subject of Ictis, who wrote circa 50 AD is also quoting from Timaeus (contemporaneous with Pytheas) and not directly from Pytheas.
It is evident that over the period of four hundred years when these Greek and Latin speaking historians were recounting Pytheas’ exploits, mostly second or third hand, an inaccurate account has been passed down about an island that traded tin with a name called ‘Ictis’ that existed in southern Britain.

The effect has been like that of Chinese whispers around a single dinner table without the added difficulty of translating Greek into Latin and we can witness how different the message from the first to the last may be distorted. Pytheas’s voyage was intended partly as a commercial venture looking for opportunities in trade with his own city Marseille and the other part scientific. Pytheas was long before Galileo in attempting to assert that the earth was round and this fact was already understood by navigators in the ancient world. This proof could only be arrived at by taking sightings of the sun at different latitudes and as Pytheas proceeded North, he observed the change in the length of daylight and he observes “the midnight sun,” confirming he went far up to what he called Thule, which presumably is confirmed by later chroniclers as Iceland.
There is mention of a passage that he made, said to be six days long and this could be one going north to Scotland but many commentators think that he only went up the eastern side of Britain but this would deny his having described the shape of Britain as triangular. The lost interpretation of the six days could even be an account of the journey to reach southern England from Marseille. Some ancient writers seem to give it as a quote from the ‘Britains’ about the distance to travel to Ictis to procure tin. The ‘six days inwards’ (introrsus) related by Timæus, and quoted by Pliny, says, that this Mictis or Ictis, “was six days sail inwards from Britain” and given as a direction supposedly by the Britons to Pytheas on his arrival in Belerion, has led most Ictis investigators astray and was obviously related out of context, as much of the other information has been.
Pliny’s quotation of Timaeus ’six days sail inland from Britain, there is an island called Mictis in which white lead is found, and to this island the Britons come in boats of Osier covered with sewn hides’ could be a confusion of the six days in which it would take to get from Lands’ end to northern Scotland averaging 70-90 miles a day if indeed Pytheas went up the western side of Britain with no mention of Ireland. Some commentators seemingly assuming that because the tin is known to come from Cornwall and thus the Britons starting place...... it somehow confirms a six day passage up to Thanet and implys Thanet as being synonymous with Ictis.
Diodorus’quotation of Posidonius who travelled in Britain around 80BC describes the metal workers of Belerion carrying their tin to a certain Island called Ictis which acted as a great trading post for merchants. This quote coupled with the fact that the Isle of Wight's Latin name ‘Vectis’ being similar to ‘Ictis’, has also led to more confusion as much trade was known to take place from this area. Some commentators have assumed the Six days Inwards can be applied to the journey along the Southern coast from where Pytheas initially made contact with the inhabitants of the Southern tip of Belerion, all the way to Thanet in Kent, another possible candidate for Ictis, as Kent is mentioned in his Journal.
Pytheas probably did not explore much of the mainland of Thule but gives an account of sea ice. We do not know from Thule where he bore southward for the return voyage but again this could be another confusion as they sailed south for six days and nights before they reached the shores of Britain.
We hear little from subsequent commentators about Pytheas’s return along the eastern shore of Britain as far as Kent but his expedition returned successfully by the Channel and the Bay of Biscay, back to the mouth of the Gironde.
Pytheas as a ships navigator had mastered the use of the "Gnomon," an instrument similar to the hexante or Sextant as it is known today. This instrument was used by Phoenician and Greek navigators since very early times and Pytheas used it to calculate the latitude of Massalia, which he found to be 43' 11' N, almost matching the exact figure of 43' 18'N for where Marseilles lies today. It was a committee of merchants from Marseilles that engaged the services of Pytheas to undergoe his voyage of discovery. He was a renowned mathematician of that city, who was already famous for his measurement of the declination of the ecliptic, and for the calculation of the latitude of that city, by a method which he had recently invented of comparing the height of the gnomon or pillar with the length of the solstitial shadow. Many of the ancient writers disbelieved Pytheas’ account of his journey and the distances involved and much interpolation, interpretation and rationalisation of subsequent writers has meant that we are now no longer sure of what has been related accurately.
It is 238 miles from the mouth of the Gironde to Ushant, a leg of the trip that Pytheas records “as three days away” by Strabo then one days sail to the Belerion coast. Pytheas was averaging 79.3 miles a day. The four days, quoted by Diodorus from the Gironde is indicating he had a quick passage from Ushant, probably sighting the Lizard first only 89 miles away. It was hereabouts at an undisclosed landfall, he made his enquiries to the ‘Britons’ about tin. Pytheas was probably told it was two days further up channel, but Timaeus records that the Britons, said the Tin would be available six days inwards in an island which they went to in wicker framed boats covered with hide, these wicker boats probably only used locally. It is only fifty five miles from the Lizard to Ictis and if Pytheas did record that the journey in total was six days, Pytheas most probably sailed along the coast for the last two days stopping overnight so that he did not miss the island.
Timaeus recorded Pytheas in Greek, then it was rendered by Pliny the Elder in Latin, influenced by other previous references that were possibly interpolated nearly 300 years later. This would not accord with the original detail given by Pytheas. It seems most likely that, Pytheas’s intention was to give a meaningful reference of six days in total to the Island of Ictis from the Gironde, detailing“inwards” up channel from his present location. This seems to be the obvious solution but this six day period may indeed be in reference to another part of his trip and the context has been muddled. One can tell that Diodorus is not giving a first-hand account but the ‘we are told’ reference from this next extracted account is most probably referencing details given by Pytheas: Britain is triangular in shape, similar to Sicily, but its sides are not equal. This island stretches obliquely along the coast of Europe, to a point where it is least distant from the mainland, we are told, is the promontory which men call Cantium,(Kent) and this is around one hundred stades from the land, at the place where the sea has its outlet,(The Dover Straits) whereas the second promontory, known as Belerium, is said to be a voyage of four days from the mainland. Is this the four days from the Gironde again, just mis-conveyed by later chroniclers in the wrong context?
The shape of the tin ingots described as ‘Astragali’ in Diodorus’s account seems to have been confused because vertebrae bone or knucklebone were used as gaming dice and went by that name. The shape of any discovered tin ingots from Devon and Cornwall neither resemble cubes or the knucklebone shape. There is little credibility that can be given to this hypothesis. These moulded convex and bun shaped ingots in different sizes would fit into wooden framed skin covered boats called coracles. The shape of the Ingots would be bun shaped (like those found at the head of the river Erm) with no hard corners for a few reasons and it is to this shape from which we can assume the term astralagi refers.
Naturally moulded tin ingot formed in any convienient dried rock pool next to a river where cassiterite would be mined, would be the first. Consequently, a hemispheroid that would not tear the animal skins of the local traders that transported the ingots to Ictis in their coracles is the second. There would be no need to schampher or to soften the flat surface edges of the convex shape due to ‘surface tension’ of the liquid tin as the mould cooled. By natural design, flat on one side and convex on the other, seem to be the shape of the majority of existing examples including the recent find of the ingot cargo in the Erm mouth which we will discuss shortly. This shape would make them ideal to fit between the wooden framing of any coracle and present a completely flat interior for its occupants, following the curve of the boat. This would avoid point and weight loading of any part of the skin. The exterior of the Astragali would always present to the skin face a surface unlikely to rip or damage and be kept in place by the surrounding wooden framing. By placing and packing the Astragali as a removable floor the traders would be spreading the weight throughout the coracle while at the same time creating ballast at a low centre of gravity. This would be the optimum means of transport at sea to avoid the cargo becoming loose during passage. The shape of the Astragali over time, was probably standardised by popular agreement and by convieniece to both transporter and smelter..... in moulds eroded by rain or river used by early ‘Tinners’.... hence all the different sizes, but the shape for shipping being a convienient element. The third reason as C.F.C Hawkes points out, can be deduced from Diodorus’s description of the ingots passage to the mouth of the river Rhone by horse or mule , a passage of about thirty days ‘on foot’. The ingots would be better shaped for saddle bags on these pack horses. The optimum size of the ingots would have evolved by feedback from the pilots of coracles.
The shape of the ingots probably evolved from lighting fires over dried out rock pools conveniently found everywhere next to the river, from which the Cassiterite was panned by the Bronze Age Tinners and this shape turned out to be the most practical for early sea transport.
It is not even clear whether Pytheas when he refers to coracles is referring to the foreign traders. This seems unlikely but seems to refer to the suppliers from the different river mouths transporting their tin to Ictis along the coast to the central agency. Certainly this would have been the easiest way to get ingots from areas downstream of the rivers running from southern Dartmoor to convey them to ictis. The river Avon however, the effluent from which exits by the trading post of Ictis is a different story, as the Tin came down by cart from Dartmoor as witnessed by Diodorus’ description of Pytheas’ eye witness account as we shall establish later.
It becomes evident that Diodorous when he writes, ‘and a peculiar thing occurs concerning islands near, lying between Europe and Britain. For at high tides, the passage between being flooded, they appear as islands, but at low tide, the sea recedes and much space being exposed again dry, they are seen to be peninsulas’; has completely misled those investigators looking for the fabled island of Ictis.
The word “near” when referring to neighbouring islands has made it impossible to find a relative location on the South West coast of Devon and Cornwall. The most probable explanation of this confusion.... which leads to an impossible location to match its description…… is that it is a combination of Pytheas’ original eye witness account combined with that of a later trader who gives account of passing the Channel Islands. Upon setting out from the French coast in the morning, would see islands before dark while passing the Channel Islands, then probably having slept through the night one would arrive at another island next to the coast…… could be an explanation, but it is more likely that it is a mixture of two accounts.
Ictis is a single Island of Pytheas’ account but was misconstrued by Diodorus and other chroniclers from eyewitness accounts of traders that obviously were referring to the Channel Islands and this reference to other islands being ‘near’ is a later interpolation and misunderstanding of Pytheas’ account. Alternatively, a passenger not accustomed to navigation, the sea or the speed at which a boat travels, might lead him to believe those other islands to be in close proximity to the one at which he has arrived if they travelled through the night.
It is highly probable that Diodorous is relating directly from Pytheas the detail concerning the island drying out, but then inserts his own information narrated to him from one of the overland traders who might have made the voyage to Ictis or even heard of an account or seen the Channel Islands. Diodorus as a Greek Sicilian from Mediterranean waters is already struggling with the concept of ‘tides’ and in his narration he deems the whole notion as “peculiar”. So having made this error and misunderstood that Ictis is situated “near” other islands, these other islands then in the same ‘peculiar tide’, become plural peninsulas’ in the narrative. To find such a location on the British South West promontory ‘near Britain’ would be impossible. However one might view the confusion of the plurality of Islands, we know that Pytheas is talking of a singular Island called Ictis to which wagons cross over when the tide recedes.
However, with the many garbled references let us stick to the account in Diodorus’s ‘Bibliotheca Historica’ for the moment and see what he has to say in the following passage relating to the Island of Ictis and the British tin trade;
“We shall give an account of the British institutions, and other peculiar features, when we come to Cæsar’s expedition undertaken against them, but we will now discuss of the tin produced there. The inhabitants who dwell near the promontory of Britain, known as Belerium, are remarkably hospitable; and, from their intercourse with other peoples merchants, they are civilized in their mode of life. These people prepare the tin, in an ingenious way, quarrying the ground from which it is produced, and which, though rocky, has fissures containing ore; and having extracted the supply of ore, they cleanse and purify it, and when they have melted it into tin ingots, they carry it to a certain island, which lies off Britain, and is called Ictis. At the ebbing of the tide, the space between this island and the mainland is left dry and then they can convey the tin in large quantities over to the island on their wagons. A peculiar circumstance happens with regard to the neighbouring islands, which lie between Europe and Britain, for at flood tide, the intermediate space being filled up, they appear as islands; but at ebb tide, the sea recedes, and leaves a large extent of dry land, and at that time, they look like peninsulas. Hence the merchants buy the tin from the natives, on Ictis and carry it over into Gaul (Galatia); and in the end after travelling through Gaul on foot about a thirty days journey, they bring their wares on horses to the mouth of the river Rhone.”
Mount Batten in Plymouth, a peninsula just off Cattwater, has been posited as a possible contender for Ictis, but it doesn't dry out at low tide and it could never have been kept secret as Strabo relates and one can see geologically it has never been separated by tidal flow.... or insular, to fit with Pytheas’ description. The source of the Plym is at Plymhead, on the high open moorland of Dartmoor and the river from Higher Hartor to Cadover Bridge which has concentrated evidence of early settlement including burial mounds and Bronze Age hut circles.... would possibly put Mount Batten as a contender for Ictis, if indeed it had dried out at low tide to where carts could cross, as related by in the original description by Pytheas. The strip of land leading to Mount Batten was splashed on a high tide before the modern breakwater was built but this hardly results in the description of an island. Even though there is a small natural harbour.... why, one must ask was the tin taken to the island that Pytheas witnessed, but for the insular protection and the ease of landing and then loading a vessel.... both of these conveniently found at Burgh island.
Pytheas correctly estimated the circumference of Great Britain as 4000 miles and also knew the distance that he had sailed from Marseille to be 1050 instead of the actual distance of 1120, so he was accurate in his own estimations and figures. His account would have been without error because he experienced it, unlike later second hand accounts, some of which were written by chroniclers that thought his exploits and observations not credible and actively set out to discredit him.
The Belerion mentioned by Pytheas is most likely defined as the southern promontory of Great Britain probably commencing with Salcombe in South Devon, stretching all the way down to Lands’ End. This ‘promontory’ clearly depicted on a map geographically adheres to Pytheas’ description. More rationally we can understand his definition as the start of the south west peninsula or‘promontory’ as a description derived by a Navigator. There is also the fact that the name of Belerion tends to suggest the area defined by a people and that same area would then latterly become known as Dumnonia which included both Devon and Cornwall. By Pytheas’ understanding, he was explaining the area south of Salcombe and describing Belerion as such, being defined by a people ‘the natives of this promontory area’ more than the norm, being ’friendly to strangers’; a trait still evident in the modern era.
Just west of the entrance into Salcombe estuary, about 2.5 miles west of ‘Bolt tail’, there lies a small island called Burgh Island which fits Pytheas’s description exactly. Bolt head and Bolt tail (probably derived from Bel) being easily recognisable from miles out to sea with its prominent plateau like formation.... would make landfall at Ictis for any early trader relatively simple ‘eyeball navigation’. If one considers that, to navigate in these tidal currents that relentlessly flow, (sometimes in opposing directions on the outskirts of the channel on the same contrary tide)…… it makes navigation hazardous. Once having passed the Channel Islands on a trip from the French coast or from a departure point further west, the navigator is open to the vagaries of the current and weather.
The first compasses were made of lodestone, a naturally-magnetized ore of iron. Ancient people found that if a lodestone was suspended so it could turn freely, it would always point in the same direction toward the magnetic pole. These were later adapted as compasses made of iron needles, magnetized by stroking them with a lodestone. It is highly probable that the early navigators that were plying their trade in tin, even before Pytheas made his voyage, used these lodestones to locate the escarpment of Bolt head and Bolt Tail. There is an old mine at the base of Bolt head known as Easton’s mine in which Mundic is found (an oxidisation of pyrites).... while the unfortunate miner had hoped to find Copper. These lodes of Pyrites crystals are found throughout the whole cliff and there are several well documented accounts of Ship’s compasses being ‘swung off’ by the mass of Iron rich lodes found in the headland. The Captain of the Herzogin Cecilie fell foul of this phenomena by hitting the Ham stone.... while the ancients may have used this to their advantage in conjunction with a swinging lodestone.


Copyright The Francis Frith Collection
Figure 10 Showing the Island of Ictis as it appeared in 1918 but relatively unchanged since Pytheas first visited.


Pytheas was one of the first people to give a report of Stonehenge while he visited the British Isles and took measurements of the Sun’s declination in Britain at different points in the year to further his astronomical studies. He was also probably one of the first Greeks to give an account of the tidal activity which he had learnt (from the Britons), was caused by the moon, the tide of course being virtually non-existent in Mediterranean waters. This was 1800 years before Galileo was taken to task in asserting that the world was round. Galileo was denounced at the Roman Inquisition in 1615 AD by the Catholic Church, which condemned heliocentrism (the idea that the world was a globe) as ‘false and contrary to Scripture’. This does seem quite extraordinary when the Sun and Moon are obviously round and this knowledge had existed for nearly two thousand years.
Some of the ancient writers like Diodorus do not even mention Pytheas by name, but refer to his comments alone. Pliny, who is using Timaeus as a source says, “there is an island named Mictis where tin is found, and to which the Britains cross”. He uses the word ‘proveniat’ which commentators have assumed as meaning that Tin was actually mined at Ictis but the real meaning is ‘provend’ as a supplier which matches the concept of‘Emporium’ which many translators chroniclers and commentators have misunderstood. The reasoning behind this choice of word is very misleading, since there was no tin mined at the island, just stored there, (large quantities of tin being transferred to the island by cart)..... this point being of great importance as the reader will become aware shortly. The ‘crossing’, mentioned by most chroniclers is in reference to the sandbar or causeway evidenced today at Burgh island, but Pliny who obviously never went to the island, implying a large stretch of land to be crossed.
Diodorus writes also that tin is brought to the island of Ictis, where there is an Emporium, literally being translated as a ‘marketplace or agency’ and this is the definition which defines the role of Ictis.
Polybius was probably a source to Strabo for some details concerning Ictis and Strabo relates that an Emporium on the Island of Corbulo at the mouth of the river Loire was associated with the Island of Ictis, so here again the real picture is made more difficult to identify Ictis. Strabo also infers that Ictis, and Corbulo are different names for the same island, so there is much confusion as the Chinese whisper effect has confused its location. Possibly, Strabo never saw a copy of Pytheas and sourced most of his material from Polybius. Diodorus on the other hand seems to have read Timaeus, sourced from Pytheas’ original, which Polybius seems to have read also. It would appear that Strabo did not read Pytheas first hand, (or he would not have referred to Polybius) and is probably accountable for much of the Chinese whispers effect.
Pliny calls the island, Mictis, mictim or mictin which indicates that he has translated directly from Timaeus, changing the case ending from the Greek at different times, but he was struggling to make the distinction between Cassiteris and Ictis because he actually writes “INSULAM MICTIM,”. Other writers such as Suetonius have actually referred to the island as Vectis, which has obviously led to confusion with the Isle of Wight which was known in the Roman world as Vectis and used to be pronounced ‘ouectis’ which obviously sounds similar to Ictis.
It would appear taking into account archaeological evidence of early tin production that one would need to look for an island somewhere between Salcombe and Lands’ End that dries out at low tide and becomes a peninsula. We should ignore the information about Ictis having been surrounded by other islands close by, as there is no such location near a tidal Island peninsula. We should account it as later misunderstanding of a muddled confusion from a second or third hand account concerning the Channel Islands. Other considerations to achieve a practical location for Ictis should consider navigational ease or constraints and overland transportation; for by Pytheas’ account, these were large consignments of tin being moved. It would appear therefore, that the story as a whole has become a confused interpretation over the years comprised of rationalisations and interpolations of the original account.
Diodorus relates that Ictis was dry at low water and “the natives conveyed to it wagons, in which were large quantities of tin”. This and the fact that the Island is connected by a causeway at low tide, across which these wagons convey the tin are the essential facts relayed by Pytheas himself.
The fact that large quantities of tin at this stage in 350BC and more specifically before that, was produced in Devon can be seen archeologically. It makes little practical sense to think that the Isle of Wight or Hengistbury point or Thanet is even a viable candidate for the island of Ictis.
The quantities mentioned and the heavy transport loads involved from Dartmoor as far as the Isle of Wight over 100 miles away should exclude any further mention being given as a credible location for Ictis even given the transport risks of such a valuable commodity. The problem with all the previous possible candidates for the Island of Ictis is that scholars or researchers have always used information selectively to support their own views on the location. It is known that tin mining had first started in between the Erm and Avon estuary in the early British Bronze Age. There is ample archaeological evidence to show that tin streaming existed high up on the moors behind South Brent at Shipley Bridge on the Avon, at least to 1600BC and probably beyond.



Figure 10a Showing the tin Valley of the Avon, high above Ictis on Southern Dartmoor.
Old style tin streaming between these two rivers was the main industry in pre historic times, due to the geological formation of a river on each side of a central granite escarpment. Tin is smelted from ‘cassiterite’, a mineral found in hydrothermal veins in granite, which is what had been separated by constant erosion from the Quartz, Mica and Feldspar that constitute the Granite.
This area just north of the South Hams is where we find the earliest beginnings of what was to become a global supplier of tin to the ancient world. The methods employed to extract tin from Dartmoor followed a progression from streaming through open cast mining to much later underground mining. Within ten miles from Ictis there are extensive archaeological remains of these three phases of the industry, and sites still exist that show the stages of processing that were necessary to convert the ore to tin metal. The ordnance survey map provides a snapshot showing the evolution from the early Bronze Age through to the 1300’s AD. The once very extensive alluvial deposits of tin ore, which were the first deposits to be mined in the two rivers…… once existed in lodes, that have been eroded , leaving the steep sided valleys; evidence the vast quantity of ore that must originally have been gathered on the valley floor. The first occupants, just panning the river beds due to cassiterite’s specific gravity, would have sourced it all the way down the Erm and Avon Valleys.
The legendry island of Ictis which is called ‘Burgh Island’ today, stands at the mouth of the Avon River on the opposite shore to the small hamlet of Bantham. The Island of Ictis, first heard of in the chronicles of the ancient writers, was probablycoined from the Greek ikhthys meaning fish, because up until recently Burgh Island was renowned for the shoals of pilchards that congregated naturally around it in Bigbury Bay. It seems that Pytheas referred to the Island as ikhthys island or ‘fish island’ (as it was probably called back then by the locals)…… and then later chroniclers termed it the Island of Ictis. The shoals of pilchards in the bay were legendary well into the 18th century…… fishing fleets said to have made catches of 12 million fish in a single day. The pilchards were cured with salt and were either pressed for oil or shipped by the barrel load to Europe. It seems extraordinary that the one Island described by Pytheas as Fish Island and renowned for its huge shoals that sometimes darkened the whole bay, would not be associated with the Greek word ikhthys……also being the only tidal island on the southern promontory as described by Pytheas…… and especially situated just 10 miles from the huge alluvial tin deposits that existed on southern Dartmoor.
Tin was transported from this small island over to France by French traders and further by international traders such as the Phoenicians…… since around 1000 BC until around 30 BC. This trade must have been seriously interfered with by Julius Caesar's expeditions in 55 and 54 BC. The recent find of tin ingots at the mouth of the River Erm 2.5 miles distant, confirms Burgh Island as Ictis and its link with the tin trade. In small area near Bantham that has recently been archaeologically excavated, Amphorae were found and also other signs of active trade with France and most probably Phoenician traders from an early era. In another recent discovery on the Eastern shore at Wash Gully, 300 yards off the coast on the approaches to the Salcombe estuary, divers recently uncovered 259 copper ingots, a bronze leaf sword and 27 tin ingots. The wreck of an old trading vessel found there, dates from around 900BC and measures 40ft long to approximately 6ft wide and is constructed from timber planks. It is thought to have been powered by a crew of 15 seamen with paddles, but it seems likely even at this early stage, some form of ‘windage’ would have been employed in a fair wind.
There is more physical archaeological evidence along this small stretch of coast, between the mouth of the river Erm and Salcombe, to add credibility to Burgh island being synonymous with Ictis and its links with the Tin industry. The Archeological evidence indicates that there was considerable trade in tin ore being shipped abroad from an early period. Although the copper ingots of the Salcombe wreck are said to have come from Europe; it does not necessarily indicate that the copper was being imported. A craft of this size may have been on a scouting mission to pick up ingots from Ictis, having heard of it as a tin depot from those further along the coast or the tin ingots could have come from Ictis before it was wrecked.
There is little evidence to show anywhere on the promontory of Belerion that the actual smelting of bronze took place to any industrial degree but it is possible that these copper ingots found off Salcombe, could have been traded with the locals for the rarer commodity of tin. Although copper was mined to the south-west of Dartmoor, these mines are of a much later date than the wreck in question. The ‘Blow Houses’ found up behind the Avon dam are part of the tin smelting process and were probably only used as such and not employed to make bronze and these were of a much later date.
Strabo relates the fact that the people who control the Island of Ictis took great pains to hide the business of the island from Roman vessels seen on that part of the coast. It is probable that the early wagoneers who brought the tin down through Loddiswell to the Island of Ictis for sale, could no longer keep secret their route down from Dartmoor after the Romans arrived and this may have been the root cause of the eventual end of the islands monopoly as the place of primary export.
The word ‘Emporium’ indicates that Ictis acted as a market, which indicates some sort of central agency, trading post or even monopoly from which the tin was traded. This would make sense practically, understanding that a trading vessel would not want to wait around for the tin to be brought down from the various tin streamers upon the moors. This leads to a natural conclusion that Ictis maintained some sort of vault or storage area from which tin was dispersed as trading vessels arrived. This would also concur with the‘wagon loads’ of Pytheas eye witness account. vessels arriving from abroad, could expedite their business by landing and loading on the sand causeway and if the winds were fair, return home without a long wait in the anchorage at Bantham.
In the early days when coracles were used, the pilot of a small trading vessel would take rest in Bantham behind the duned promontory. He would sail across to Burgh Island, dry out on the sand at low tide while loading, securing and making ship shape his cargo of tin ‘Astragali’, to be floated off at high tide for the return voyage. It would seem also that Pytheas had a sound vessel but it is quite possible that his reference to coracles only refers to vessels engaged in the tin trade bringing tin to the Island of Ictis from local river mouths or even as far as from tin bearing Cornish river beds.
It may be that Pliny quoting Timaeus ‘to which the Britons cross in boats of osier covered with stitched hides’……is an account originating from Pytheas when he initially asked the Britons where the Island that sells tin might be found. The reason for positing such an assertion is that I believe that the merchants of Marseille commissioned Pytheas’ voyage because they had witnessed a substance known now as British Glass (which was a by-product of smelting) that was said to have come from the island that sold tin. It is thought that Pytheas went in search of Amber which is a fossilised resin but the nearest thing in the ancient world to describe British Glass.
Modern construction such as clincker that used bronze nails was known at the time of Pytheas’s visit, but we can speculate that most of the cross channel trade in tin would have taken place in vessels built of wood and animal skins to ensure the vessel remained watertight…… this as a natural progression from framed coracles.
There is evidence in France of bronze foundries that may have built upon a long standing trade with Ictis such as Villedieu-les-Poêles just inland from the Contentin coast not far from Mont-Saint-Michel. Villedieu-les-Poêles was established on a reputation stemming back to pre-Roman times and was one such foundry that eventually became one of the biggest in France in the medieval era smelting bronze for church bells across Europe. This trade being established through the mainland harbours such as those at St. Père-sur-Mer, Genets and Avranches and St Malo. One can assume therefore that most of the bronze was founded in Europe as copper became more plentiful from European mines.
It becomes apparent that Ictis acted as the main tin agent for the western peninsular of England, declining from around 50BC until its closure, but until that point, miners upon Dartmoor would have found it very difficult to deliver as demand dictated, without an agency on the shore to deal with the comings and goings of foreign vessels. There is no question that the tin was traded with Europe, the Greek historian Herodotus in the 5th century B.C, referring to the tin trade as occurring in the "Isles of the West".
Herodotus in book 3 says ‘I cannot speak with certainty nor am I acquainted with the islands called the Cassiterides from which tin is brought to us….it is never the less, certain that both our tin and our amber are brought from these extremely remote regions, in the western extremities of Europe’. It is highly likely that British Glass(a by-product of smelting)was confused for Amber.
Ptolemy, writing c140 A.D says of the British Isles, ’they were peopled by descendants of the Hebrew race who were skilled in smelting operations and excelled in working metals’. Biblical records recording the use of tin as far back as the coming out of Egypt with Moses, Tubal-Cain the instructor of every artificer in works of brass and Iron, and the building of the first Temple.
Ictis’ central agency, originally determined by geographical convenience; dissolved, as the industry changed or as the Romans search for the tin Island became ever closer to discovery. This island contains what probably can be likened to one of the first banks to ever exist. As such it would allow the miners to bring their tin down from the moors when they wished and the foreign traders to purchase their ingots …… then up anchor when the wind and tide were in their favour. The production of tin involved much labour and its use in conjunction with copper created a metal of great value. Late in Ictis’ history, with the emerging Roman Empire trying to get their hands on as much tin as possible, it proved necessary, in its final century of trading, to conceal the active trade of the island.
Strabo relates: ‘Now in former times it was the Phoenicians alone who carried on this commerce for they kept the voyage a secret from everyone else. At one time when the Romans were closely pursuing a certain Phoenician ship-captain in order that they too might uncover the tin markets in question, jealously guarding the secret, the ship-captain drove his ship on purpose off its course into shoal water; and after he had lured his pursuer into the same ruin, he himself escaped by a piece of wreckage and received from the State the value of the cargo and what he had lost. Still, by trying many times, the Romans learned all about the voyage.’
It seems in the end, the location of Ictis was never actually discovered and Cornwall in general became known as the Cassiterides, Diodorus saying “if I am deceived, I would say, with Herodotus, that I am not acquainted with the Cassiterides.” meaning as a set of Islands, given as ten in number where tin is produced. This would, as we have discussed…… seem to be a later confusion with the Channel Islands and outlying rocks.
Posidonius in his account of the tin-trade, says that metal was dug up ‘among the barbarians beyond Lusitania, and in the islands called Cassiterides,’ and he added that it was also found in Britain, and transported to Marseilles. Pomponius Mela relates that ‘Among the Celtici are several islands, all called by the single name of Cassiterides, because they abound in tin.’ Strabo, writing about the year 10 AD, is in no way sure of the location of the Cassiterides or the islands on the coast of Spain and seems to think the tin-islands are distant to Britain causing confusion with the Scilly Isles or indicating some knowledge or rumour about the Azores and says ‘Northwards and opposite to the Artabri are the islands called the Cassiterides, situated in the high seas, somewhere about the same latitude as Britain.’ And then goes on to say that ‘The islands are ten in number’.Pliny, who was Procurator of Spain writing just after Strabo reverts back to the old statement, that ‘opposite to Celtiberia are a number of islands, which the Greeks called Cassiterides, because of their abundance of tin.’
Ictis by this time was no longer operational but its location to the Romans was unknown surely because by this time the legendry island that had ceased operation was now understood to be a bunch of islands that produced tin on them…… a non existant location. Publius Crassus visited the northern coast of Spain and he was supposed to have found the way to the Cassiterides, because Strabo says ‘As soon as he landed there, he saw that the mines were worked at a very slight depth, and that the natives were peaceable and employing themselves of their own accord in navigation: so he taught the voyage to all that were willing, although it was longer than the voyage to Britain. Thus much about Spain, and the islands lying in front of it.’
What Crassus had found is not certain but if it were on the British coast by this time the steady migration of tinners moving south after the closure of Ictis would have been inevitable, so maybe he witnessed ‘shamelling’ down in Cornwall. Certainly to that part of the peninsula would have been further than most cross channel routes from France and he may have assumed Cornwall to be further out into the ocean and disconnected from Britain especially if having travelled from Spain. Festus Avienus who wrote around 400AD perpetuates the myth that Islands exist somewhere out in the channel or off southern Britain by regurgitating the accounts of previous chroniclers: ‘Beneath this promontory spreads the vast Oestrymnian gulf, in which rise out of the sea the Oestrymnides islands, scattered with wide intervals, rich in metal of tin and lead. The people are proud, clever, and active, and all engaged in incessant cares of commerce. They furrow the wide rough strait, and the ocean abounding in sea-monsters, with a new species of boat. For they know not how to frame keels with pine or maple, as others use, nor to construct their curved barks with fir, but strange to say, they always equip their vessels with skins joined together, and often traverse the salt sea in a hide of leather. It is two days' sail from hence to the Sacred Island, as the ancients called it’ and goes on to say, ‘near to this again is the broad island of Albion.’
Much of this information coming from chroniclers such as Pliny who believed it to be a fable of the Greeks, that the tin was fetched from " islands in the Atlantic," and carried there in the "wicker-boats sewn round with hides."
Polybius is the authority for letting us know that Ictis and Corbelo were in fact in later days kept secret from the Romans saying that no one in the city could tell the Romans anything worth mentioning about the north and also that nothing could be learned from the merchants of Narbonne, or of the City of Corbelo, which was said to have been a flourishing place in the age of Pytheas and who Strabo mixes up with Ictis.
Foreigners were warned of the danger of all attempts to interfere with the Carthaginian commerce.
Strabo tells us of a Phoenician trading vessel whose captain on its return voyage from the “Tin Isles”, while being followed by a Roman vessel which kept him in sight and being unable to elude it; duly steered into the shallows, which caused the sinking of both vessels on a shoal. This endeavour as we saw in the passage earlier was to maintain the secrecy of the location of Ictis.
Now there would be no point in this deed unless of course he was seen heading to seaward from the proximity of Ictis and this indicates that he must have been fully laden because he was on a return journey and therefore probably slower than normal. If overhauled and captured it would be difficult to explain the inconsistency of being laden with ingots in close proximity to an island…… and the Roman captain working out that this was the island that his countrymen had searched for. If the Phoenician were somewhat distant however from the island and captured, he could say Ictis was at any location, but to be seen heading to seaward departing what looks to be a Lee shore and in close proximity to an island, would surely have made a Roman captain suspicious if he had indeed survived to tell the tale or captured the captain with his cargo.



Figure 10b Showing the white water at the head of the river Erm caused by West Mary’s rocks onto which the Phonecian pilot ran his vessel.   This image aso shows  the proximity of these rocks to the Fabled Island of Ictis situated in Bigbury Bay.


The captain of the Phoenician vessel, whose own life was preserved, was rewarded by his countryman or the agency on the island for managing to maintain the secrecy of the island which begs the question; was Ictis’ agency or monopoly set up by merchants from Tyre and Sidon but we shall deal with this question later when we learn that Ictis is in fact the Island of Sarras from the Grail stories and so named after Zarra Judah’s son and firstborn heir.
It seems very strange that a trading vessel laden with a cargo of tin ingots, having just left the coast would fall upon Mary's rocks at the mouth of the Erm estuary. Assuming we have located Ictis, (as Melkin later confirms), it would seem extraordinary as an explanation for the find of a cache of ingots, that a boat would set out in foul conditions after having loaded a cargo, only to fall prey to rocks on the next river mouth over from where one had just set sail.
A captain could always return to where he knew was navigable. It seems highly likely that the boat carrying the wrecked ingots recently discovered at the mouth of the Erm was the very Phoenician vessel narrated by Strabo, while there was reported evidence of another wrecked vessel of a similar age that had sunk close by. Interesting is the fact that it was his countrymen that recompensed him not only for his vessel but the value of his cargo. This would lead us to believe by Strabo’s report that this island was held in such high esteem by the Phoenicians as a central agency and as such, probably kept secret its whereabouts, to monopolise the supply of tin to the ancient world. Logically, because of the cluster of ingots found at the mouth of the Erm with a matching account to explain their presence in such close proximity to Ictis; it should predispose the enquirer to consider the reasons for such an unlikely find. It must be that the Island was trying to remain unexposed to Roman discovery and takeover as Strabo indicates. This alone should confirm that the identity of Ictis is synonymous with Burgh Island without the information that Melkin later provides us with as an unequivocally identification.
It was the community at Folly Hill just above Bigbury on Sea which operated Ictis as a storehouse and mart for tin due to its close proximity for loading while beached, as opposed to there having been a community that has left archaeological evidence of dwelling on the Island itself.
The prevailing wind in Bigbury bay is south west most of the time but if one were heading out into the channel, one would leave Ictis on a starboard tack heading toward the hill fort on Bolt tail. If no look outs had warned an unsuspecting captain and he met a Roman vessel heading north west sailing under Bolt Tail, the two vessels would be virtually on top of each other before they sighted each other. Our brave Phonecian captain chose to‘go about’ and ‘reach’ past Ictis and lead his pursuer to the mouth of the Erm. For the Roman to follow the Phonecian onto the rocks would mean that as Strabo related, he was unable to shake off his pursuer. The Roman captain, immediately on the the Phoenician’s stern, thinking he was heading into the navigable waters of a river mouth, would be left no time to take evasive action, sailing off the wind into the river mouth. In fact he was probably so close having ‘run him down’ across the bay, that the last thing he saw was the vessel ahead, founder on the rocks before he heard the bottom of his own vessel disintegrate. It seems highly probable that the Phoenician captain might have thought he would clear the reef while leading his pursuer (with a deeper draught) onto it. It was a chance he was willing to take and his decision would have been dependant on the tide at the time of the pursuit but in the interests of protecting the whereabouts of the then undiscovered ‘Tin Emporium’ he courageously sacrificed his vessel. The Tin ingots are all that remain, but they are situated only 2.5 miles away from Ictis. Of course the only evidence that would remain from such an incident would be the narrative itself and the cache of tin ingots after a period of approximately 2100 years. The fact that this story was still circulating at the time Strabo wrote is a good indication of the degree of fame in which the Phonecian captain was regarded.
Caesar himself bears witness that the Veniti at this time who were also engaged in tin export from Ictis in the Roman era ‘were the most powerfull seafaring people who exact tribute from such merchants as sail on that sea’ meaning the channel. The enemy i.e. the Veniti, he says ‘had great advantage over us in their shipping; the keels of their ships were flatter than ours, consequently more convenient for the shallows and low tides; their forecastles were very high; their poops were contrived so as to endure the roughness of the sea; the hull of their vessels were built of impenetrable oak; the banks for the oars were beams of a foot square ,fastened at each end, with iron pins an inch thick. Instead of cables for their anchors they made use of iron chains and had hides for their sails, either because they wanted linen and were ignorant of its use or what is more likely, they thought linen sails not strong enough to endure their boisterous seas and tempestuous winds and to carry vessels of such considerable burden.
The ease of access into the small tidal basin of Bantham would have been considerably easier to navigate in days gone by, before the dam at the head of the River Avon was constructed. It is plain to see from a seaward perspective, how small trading vessels having once turned the corner at the mouth of the Avon, find shelter in a small anchorage and remain hidden as long as they were not seen entering the harbour.



Figure 11 showing the anchorage at Bantham.

Courtesy of Francis Frith showing Bantham with Ictis in the background.


From seaward, the approach to the river mouth looks like a ‘lee shore’ which no sailor would want to approach unless he had prior knowledge of the passage between the waves leading to a haven behind the spit. From a seaward perspective, a passing vessel would only see the cliffs in the background and never assume the tidal river turned tightly to starboard behind Bantham dunes. Due to the fact that the entrance is not wide, the entrance is disguised from seaward as a breaking shoreline at nearly all states of the tide as shown in figure 12, but a clear entrance is visible in the photograph viewed from the top of the Island of Ictis.



Figure 12 showing the approaches to mouth of the river Avon.


For this reason and because of the brave acts of one Phonecian captain, Ictis has remained elusive. If the Romans had discovered it, the modern world would have known its whereabouts. In the early days of Ictis, if the weather was foul and the tide ebbing, a small trading vessel could find sanctuary and dry out on the beach in the lee of the sand causeway with enough shelter found in the lee of the island itself. When the tide flooded, a small vessel would ease up to the anchorage in Bantham. In 1864, during the drainage of the marsh around the Buckland stream at Bantham, it was noticed that cart loads of bone were recovered which confirms a large camp that was known to exist there in Roman times and indicates that Ictis had become redundant before the camp was established as later writers would not still refer to the fabled Island.
Phoenicians and Veniti alike traded with these friendly people for centuries. It was only due to the longevity of tin streaming and the expertise that was built up due to this trade over such a long period that their reputation and pre-eminence continued until the Roman era. The ‘tinners’themselves, would have been content in the knowledge that, through the agency the best price was realised and the ‘tinners’ did not find it necessary to undercut the value of their labour by competing with one another.
Bronze age ‘tinners’started to mine eluvial deposits for tin as alluvial deposits started to dwindle and this caused a gradual edging northward over the centuries up to Tavistock, Ashburton and Chagford. Much of the evidence of the earliest tinners upon southern Dartmoor that originated on the Avon, and the Erm but later encorporated the river Yealm and some of the tributaries of the Tamar, Plym and river Dart have had their archaeological evidence of tin streaming from the early British bronze age removed by subsequent workings. The Bronze Age axe head found on Mothecombe beach dated to around 1600BC is evidence of very early tin production for the Erm and Avon valleys and also adds credence to Ictis’subsequent establishment.
The western side of Dartmoor opening up probably after Ictis shut down, as tin from this side traded out of Sutton harbour. Gradually over a period of 1600 years the whole industry made a steady progression southwards into Cornwall but certainly the beginnings of tin were from the rich alluvial grounds on Southern Dartmoor from which the Ictis trade was born and for which the Island became famed in the ancient world.
From the ancient writers, to the modern researcher misinformation about the Island of Ictis has compounded its elusiveness. One can see how the Cassitterides (the Tin Isles), from the later Latin chroniclers, was mistaken for an island called Ictis which exported tin and which was reported as being surrounded by other islands in close proximity. Diodorus says of these “islands,” (using the plural,) that “they appear islands” only at “high water” and that when the tide is out, the intervening space is left dry, and “they are seen to be peninsulas”. This being reported by the subsequent writers is understandable from a chronicler who has never seen the French coast, the English coast or tides.
It is not difficult to understand how one can get the detail between islands of the Channel Islands, mixed up with the island that is the ‘Emporium’ that actually dries out at low tide.
Confused accounts have prevented researchers from noticing the only island from the Salcombe estuary down to Lands’ End that would practically fit Pytheas’s description. It also fits all the practical criteria of easy access to tin from ancient time, the provision of a safe harbour and seclusion from pirates. The fact that it dries out at low tide, (the one unequivocal clue we had), because Diodorus found the concept strange and yet still included that detail in his narrative, is only part of the confirmation. Diodorus at no stage intonated the Island was to be found in Cornwall but by his definition of the Belerion promontory, his southern promontory could start at Salcombe. In fact Diodorus has little idea about Ictis and thinks the Tin Isles are off Spain. Tin also is found in many regions of Iberia, but not found, however, on the surface of the earth, as certain writers continually repeat in their histories, but mined out of the ground and smelted in the same way as silver and gold are. For there are many mines of tin in the country above Lusitania and on the islets which lie off Iberia out in the ocean and are called because of that fact the Cassiterides.
Diodorus knows that tin is mined in Spain and like Strabo, is dubious of Pytheas’ account which implies the collection of alluvial and elluvial deposits. He also follows this last extract with: And tin is brought in large quantities also from the island of Britain to the opposite Gaul, where it is taken by merchants on horses through the interior of Celtica both to the Massalians and to the city of Narbo, as it is called. By following on with this account he is implying that the Island of Ictis to which tin was transported…… now was to become islands where the tin came from called the Cassiterides. There simply never were tin producing Islands. Supporters of the St. Michael’s Mount location as Ictis also should remember that it is not opposite Gaul as described above, whereas Burgh Island not only has the confused Channel Islands in close proximity but also fits the ‘opposite Gaul’ account more accurately. Regardless of the fact that Diodorus from Pytheas’ account records that the wagons conveyed the tin to the Island, traders accounts recorded by chroniclers would have expressly confirmed that Ictis is where one obtains tin, not where the tin came from before it was transported for storage on the island.
From the early bronze age in the south west, tin was an extremely scarce and valuable commodity due to the amount of labour that it took to extract from alluvial ground or river bed deposits before smelting. A large community of Bronze Age tinners existed in the area around Shipley Bridge where the initial alluvial deposits would have been plentiful and there is evidence that in the dry summer months they may have controlled the river flow with a small dam so that working the river beds was facilitated for short intervals. The dam may well have been used for fish stock also. It is for this reason Ictis sprung up at the base of the Avon and Erm rivers evolving into a trading post or market and then became the equivalent of the local bank vault, storing tin ingots that had been mined in the area, these very miners hewing out a storage area within the Island. This convenience of location, gave easy access for the traders, instant payment for the ‘tinners’, of the goods brought over by the continental traders and the first major tin monopoly and marketplace for the tinners product.



Figure 12a showing the dam wall at Shipley Bridge with protruding stones designed to anchor the cross wall. These large stones were anchored into the side wall to create a fixing point for the dam that is found next to the Bronze Age dwellings at Shipley Bridge.

There had of course been rumours, since the discovery in 1991 of the tin ingots at the mouth of the River Erm, that Burgh Island could have been the Island of Ictis, but tradition and modern research had placed it in St. Michael’s Mount, Marazion.



Figure 64 showing the impracticality of arriving to pick up tin on a rocky foreshore on the tidal causeway of St. Michael’s Mount. The picture is taken looking toward Marazion in the fog but shows the inhospitable rocky landing.

High up on Bolt tail the old iron age encampment on the headland from Inner Hope Cove looks down across Bigbury Bay and would have been a perfect look out and signaling station for alerting the tin Agency of approaching Roman ships trying to interfere with the trade; a local trade that had existed for more than a thousand years before their arrival. The entrance to the Hillfort is oddly aligned to look directly over Ictis as seen in figure 65 and probably worked in conjunction with the hill enclosure of Folly Hill just above Bigbury on Sea as look out stations for approaching vessels.



Figure 65 Showing the entrance to the Iron age hill fort on Bolt tail with the Island of Ictis in the foreground. The Burgh Island hotel is to the right of the Island and the distant hill on the right of the picture is the tin producing area of Southern Dartmoor.


The Folly Hill site which is being archeologically excavated shows evidence of a large community living along the hillside from the present Bigbury Golf course to the other side of what used to be the cart route down from the tin deposits on the moors. Bronze Age pits were uncovered underneath the Iron Age surfaces and have been dated by ceramics. Only a small area along this ridge at Folly hill has been archeologically surveyed but there is evidence through high resolution magnetic gradiometry and from surface evidence that a large community lived along the ridge. This was probably the gate community that controlled Ictis and through which the cart traffic carrying tin had to pass.
Presently the archaeological excavation carried out by Dr Eileen Wilkes has dated the site to around 300BC through to approximately 300 AD and shows evidence of extensive trade with the continent. Around 800 shards have been found, dated to this era including examples of ‘South West Decorative Ware’ usually found in Cornwall, local ‘Coarse Ware’, ‘Black Burnished Ware’from the Poole area and Exeter ‘Fortress Ware’. Amongst these shards were red ‘Samian Roman pottery’, Romano British Ware and pieces of pottery from Brittany and Germany. This does show early evidence of trade but what is most interesting is the find of some locally made granite clays and these are surely evidence of the earlier culture that initially set up Ictis as the Agency and are probably commensurate with the earlier dwellings. Other Iron Age sites are all within sight of each other , one just east of the mouth of the Erm, were obviously strategically placed as communities engaged in commerce and the support of Ictis.



Figure 66 Showing a view from the Folly hill community down over Bantham harbour. Also showing the ‘Long Stone’ to the right.

In the great storm of 1703, apart from destroying the Eddystone lighthouse, it uncovered a Roman camp on the beach at Bantham ham. At the time of the Roman invasion of Britain, Ictis had ceased to exist as the tin agency, but the Romans had obviously eventually made use of the little port of Bantham. With the recent building of the lifeguard hut on Bantham beach, archaeologists have noticed signs of settlement from a very early time through the iron age with the discovery of later artefacts confirming trade with the Mediterranean and Phoenicians.
The translation of the word Emporium is now more plainly understood as Ictis acts as a trading post with a safe haven harbour that serves both coastal traffic bringing tin to market and tin transported by cart on an ancient trackway from the southern edge of Dartmoor.
In 2003 a component of an Iron-age ‘Linch-pin’ was found south west of the iron-age hill fort of ‘Blackdown Rings’. No other iron-age finds have been found in the area, which indicates that the cart pin was lost ‘en route’ down from Shipley Bridge to Ictis. The Pin is of the Kirkburn type and dated to around 300BC. Where this pin was found is right next to the oldest road down from the alluvial tin deposits on Southern Dartmoor which leads to the tidal road in Aveton Gifford, the same track that the wagons took to get to Ictis. Just as Pytheas had said, carts brought the tin to the beach. The use of carts is rare in the hilly terrain of Devon, compared with the rest of the country and for the most part, pack horses were used. So this really is a singular link to the usage of carts in a prehistoric period because the tin ingots would have been too cumbersome for the back of a pack horse. The Devon Archaeological Society goes on to say in their report:
‘The Loddiswell find is the only example known so far in Devon of a piece of equipment which can with reasonable confidence be attributed to the prehistoric chariot or cart. It therefore provides the earliest evidence in the county for the use of a wheeled vehicle. Such vehicles seem not to have been common in many parts of rural Devon even in the 17th and 18th centuries, when pack horses were preferred’.
The most amazing evidence which confirms this as the old trackway where the linch pin was found, is the trackway’s continued use into Roman times where Mr Terence Hockin has found many Roman artifacts such as coin dated to Claudius and a small Roman statue. It should not be forgotten that the tinners of old in Pytheas’ day would have only comparatively light trade goods in effect to take back up to the southern hills of Dartmoor by cart. It seems probable that the transport facility would have been organised by the Ictis Agency and may well have gone along the shoreline of the river when the carts were too full to go uphill Folly Hill from the end of the tidal road. These heavy loads not stored at Ictis would have been transferred onto boats having come further upstream. The main route that Pytheas would have witnessed being carted down through Bigbury having come along the tidal road portrayed by Leonardo.



Figure 66a Showing the view from the spot where the Linch Pin was found leading down to Hatch Bridge and the Aveton Gifford tidal road that leads out to Ictis.

There have been other finds beneath the shifting dunes of Bantham Ham, but it is the remarkable find of some 40 tin ingots by divers of the South West Maritime Archaeological Group that really goes a long way to concur with the story related by Strabo over 2000 years ago that a sea captain deliberately ran his boat on the rocks to keep Ictis secret.



Figure 67 Shows the perfect landfall of Ictis for any foreign trading vessel at all states of the tide by comparison with the rocky foreshore of St. Michael’s Mount.


The entrance to the Erme mouth is partly obstructed by West Mary's Rock and East Mary's Rock and the chain of small rocks lurking beneath the water that join them. There is evidence of a small harbour at Oldaport but this with a hazardous entrance was probably not as well used by foreign vessels as Bantham was. East and West Mary's rocks are uncovered only slightly at low tide and on a floodtide the entrance looks navigable and the reef is unseen. This is obviously what fooled the Roman ship following our brave Phoenician captain that we related earlier.
Most of the ingots found just to the north of West Mary’s Rock, were spread out and worn by the tidal flow while also being encrusted with marine life and the ingots had eroded and become oxidised. Most were plano–convex (bun shaped), all of them different shapes and sizes having been probably cast in many different locations upon Dartmoor. The shaped ingots described by Diodorous as ‘astragali’(some commentators Astralagi Astragalus) seems obtuse as a reference to shape as most examples found were once bun shaped before oxidation due to rock moulds caused by eddies at the sides of the rivers where the cassiterite was collected. The most probable explanation of the etymology of this term in reference to an ingot is some reference to its metallic brightness and provenance as it could have been termed a Gallic star or Astro-Gallus.
It seems Pytheas, if indeed this word is his was originally commenting on the uniformity of shape, caused by similar rock pool indentations, but size differs greatly amongst all the existing examples, as the Tinners used different moulds along the river edges. From the earliest time, a collection of cassiterite would have been placed in an indent in the rock and a fire lit above it, as tin melts at the low temperature of about 230°C.
However, the heaviest example found at the mouth of the Erm was rectangular and flat with a slightly thickened rim, indicating that it was cast in a fabricated mould of stone and could be of a more modern date. It could be the case that Ictis was releasing a stockpile of ancient tin ingots along with more later and larger moulded ones in the Roman era which is the era Strabo relates. The reason for change of shape could be the result of stronger vessel design from wood and fastenings. Certainly at this late period in Ictis’ history the Ingots shape would not have been wholly dependent upon fitting them within a vessel fabricated from animal skin nor would the tin have only been collected next to water.

  If the story strabo relates applies to the ingots at the Erm entrance the ingots would have been sold by weight probably clearing an sockpile from different eras as the island came under the risk of discovery.

The most famous tin ingot found in 1812 just off the sand at St. Mawes Falmouth (another account makes it Carrick or 1823), weighed 72 kg and is obviously of a much later date and could as some say be a hoax of 18th century fabrication to support the Ictis theory in Cornwall. The variation in the Tinners ingot sizes and shapes indicates that Ictis was in business over a long period of time and would not have been concerened with how long it kept its stock.

Strabo was writing around 40 BC and this is the precise time that Ictis would have been under a lot of Roman pressure causing the operators to liquidate their stock. This could be the reason found for the differing sises and shapes found at the Erm site. One would assume that it was during this 70 to 80 year period before Jesus was entombed in Ictis around 36AD, that the Island went through its decline and closure.


Figure 67a Showing the entrance to the Erm estuary looking west at mid tide in a southerly wind, where the Phonecian captain’s cargo of tin ingots were found just north of West Mary’s rocks just inshore of the breaking reef.


The fact that if indeed these are the very ingots of our brave Phonecian captain at the mouth of the Erm, it would indicate by the vast array of ingots from old ‘Astragali’to the more recent moulding, that Ictis was running down its long held stock. The fact that these Ingots are found so close to Ictis and there is a story to account for what otherwise would have been nigh on impossible to account for (given that a trader would hardly exit a port full of cargo which he had successfully navigated into it), the tin in this place can only be explained reasonably by two explanations. The fact that the most part of the Ingots were found to the north and west of West Mary’s reef definitely indicates the boat was on its way entering rather than exiting when it hit the rock’s. The location further adds credibility to the find being the product of the same account that Strabo had related. We must consider this in the context of a boat with Devonian tin cargo should be exiting a port.... not entering and the fact that our location of Ictis is only a stone’s throw away. The only other alternative explanation is that a local boat was trying to exit with cargo from the tinners based on the Erm for a delivery to Ictis, but he would hardly founder inshore of a reef he was perfectly aware of.



Figure 67b Showing the entrance to the Erm estuary at Low tide where the tin ingots were found from the Phoenician trading ship, just inshore from where the swell is seen, caused by the two rocks.


As one can see in figure 67b with the sand showing, the Phonecian trader must have worked out to lure his Roman pursuer at half or full tide when the estuary appears navigable with a favourable entrance in fair weather. In these conditions there is little to warn any navigator of the reef that lurks beneath.
Just to the east of the Avon dam above Shipley Bridge where there are several settlements, recent excavations have found in the hut encampments, tin slag and a pebble of cassiterite confirming that these were, in fact, the living quarters of the Bronze Age tinners. By the time Pytheas wrote of his exploits in the fourth century BC, the small craft which were once used, were being changed to more solidly built craft from wood, and the reason for Astragali shaped ingots became redundant. It does logical that the local traders that worked down stream on the other rivers apart from the Avon brought their ingots to Ictis by sea in their coracles as Pytheas relates just for small coastal distances ranging each side of Ictis from the Dart to Plymouth. The Tinners up on the moors however used the route down through Loddiswell as Pytheas had witnessed.

Diodorus, when commenting on British dress says that the British had learned the art of using alternate colours for their weave so as to bring out a pattern of stripes and squares ‘the cloth was woven of divers colours, and making a gaudy show. It was covered with an infinite number of little squares and lines, as if it had been sprinkled with flowers. They seem to have been fond of every kind of ornament and they wore collars and "torques" of gold, necklaces and bracelets, and strings of brightly-coloured beads, made of glass or of a material like the Egyptian porcelain.’ Archeologists have thought that the glass was brought by traders from Alexandrian factories. But glass-making is often the by product and manufactured by smelting metal and often the residue from bronze-furnaces produces a kind of glass, a silicate of soda, coloured blue or green by the silicate of copper mixing with melted sand particles and this will have been the reason why beads are recorded long before the art of glass making. It is possibly the reason that Pytheas is said to be looking for ‘Amber’ and the story later confused by subsequent Chroniclers with British glass.  This confusion may have come from Pytheas account or come from the Phoenician traders as they passed by Marseilles on their way to the Eastern Mediterranean. It is related that this Amber came from islands where amber was washed up by the sea. If there were any air bubbles in the glass this would float and this may be the solution to Pytheas' connection with Amber.




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